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Somnath Temple – The first Jyotirlinga temple of Lord Shiva

Somnath temple is a proof that the power of reconstruction shall always be greater than the power of destruction.

Photo by abhinav Singh on 500px.com

Located in Gir Somnath district of Gujarat, India, Somnath temple is the first of the 12 jyotirlingas. The temple has undergone many reconstructions as it got destroyed several times, the one that is standing today was reconstructed in 1951 in Chalukya style. It was envisioned by Vallabhbhai Patel and was completed under K.M. Munshi.

Somnath means “Lord Soma”, an epithet of Shiva, and the Somnath temple is known as “the Shrine Eternal”, according to a book by K.M. Munshi, which talks about the reconstruction and destruction of the temple throughout the course of history.

Jyotirlinga

This is where Shiva is believed to have appeared as the fiery column of light, Jyotirlinga. These jyotirlingas, 12 in total, are considered to be the supreme, undivided reality out of which Shiva party appears.

Image credit – sayamam.com

Legends and Myths

Ever since the ancient days, Somnath has been a pilgrimage site. This is where Triveni Sangam occurs, the confluence of three holy rivers: Kapila, Hiran and the mythical Sarasvati. According to the stories, Soma, the Moon God, lost his illumination due to curse. He bathed in this river to regain his luster. The result of the this is the waxing and waning of the moon, which in turn creates an allusion to the waxing and waning of tides at the seashore location. The name Prabhas, which means luster, arise from this tradition, and thus the alternative names Someshvar and Somnath (“The Lord of the Moon” or “The Moon God”).

History of Somnath temple

The first rendition of the Somnath temple is unknown yet. The second temple is said to have been built at the same place by “Yadava Kings” of Vallabhi during 649 CE. When Al-Junayd, the Arab governor of Sindh, invaded the region, he destroyed the temple in 725 CE. Then again, Gurjara-Pratihara king Nagabhata II constructed the temple in 512.

somnath temple
Photo by aramitb on 500px.com

But there are no historical records of Al-Junayd’s attack on Somnath. Nagabhata might have visited tirthas in Saurashtra, including the Someshvara. It is probated that Chaulukya King Mularaja built the first temple site way back before 997 CE. Some historians believe that he only renovated smaller temples during those days.

During the rain of Bhima in 1024, Mahmud of Ghazni, a prominent Turkic ruler, invaded Gujarat and plundered Somnath temple, breaking the jyotirlinga. He took away 20 million dinars worth during those times, and the historians believe that the destruction was minimal as there was evidence of tourists visiting the site in 1038. The temple then is said to have the wooden structure, which then decayed.

Kumarapala built it with stone and studded the temple with jewels in 1169. Again, Alauddin Khiliji sacked the Somnath temple after attacking the place. The temple was rebuilt again by Mahipala Deva, Chudasama king of Saurashtra in 1308, and the lingam was installed by his son in between 1326 and 1351. The temple was destroyed again by Zafar Khan, which was again desecrated by Mahmud Begada. In 1546, Portuguese attacked the port and destroyed several temples and mosques in Gujarat.

somnath temple - History
Somnath temple, 1869 | Image – wikipedia.org

Many such destruction and reconstruction went on and on until it was finally reconstructed again in 1951 with Patel, K.M. Munshi, and other leaders proposing to reconstructing the temple, with the acceptance by Mahatma Gandhi. The task of reconstruction instead was done under Munshi, then Minister of Food and Supplies of Government of India headed by Jawaharlal Nehru.

President Rajendra Prasad inaugurated the installation ceremony. He said:

“It is my view that the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple will be complete on that day when not only a magnificent edifice will arise on this foundation, but the mansion of India’s prosperity will be really that prosperity of which the ancient temple of Somnath was a symbol. The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction.”

Architecture of Somnath temple

The current architecture resembles the Chalukya style or the Kailash Mahameru Prasad style and reflects the skill of Sompura Salats, the master masons of Gujarat. It is 15m in height, with an 8.2m flag pole at the top.

somnath temple

The arrow of the pillar directs to a straight line between Somnath seashore and Antarctica, which seems to be written in an inscription written in Sanskrit. The Banastambha, where the inscription is written, states that “it stands at a point on the Indian landmass that is the first point on land in the north to the South Pole at that particular longitude.”


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